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KU First Nations Student Association calls for action with protest outside Spencer Museum of Art

Protesters from the University of Kansas First Nations Student Association and the KU community stuck out the thunderstorm Thursday afternoon to share thoughts, songs and support during a gathering outside of the Spencer Museum of Art, where four panels of Indigenous art installation “Native Hosts” had been vandalized and one was stolen

Tweesna Mills, Shoshone-Yakama-Umatilla Nations, co-chair of the FSNA, shared two songs with the crowd — one that represented preparing for war, and another that represented the adaptation and perseverance of Indigenous people. They both connect her to her history and her family, and she told the crowd that her own artwork, which will soon be featured in the same museum, will too.  

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“I just got chosen to show my art here, and it’s going to be on a canvas and it’s supposed to be here for a couple of weeks,” she said. “I don’t know how I feel about that, but I do know it’s an oral presentation of the distorted imagery of our Indigenous history. I’m painting that, and I’m going to share these stories and share the songs that brought me here to Haskell.”  

FSNA President Myltin Bighorn, Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribe, said Wednesday’s update about the stolen last piece of the Indigenous artwork was an upsetting disruption, and Thursday’s gathering helped him overcome that, thanking those who showed up through the rain to show their support.

“When I heard the news yesterday, I lost focus,” Bighorn said. “I’m thankful for being here right now, all this connection and all the support we have.” 

The gathering followed the return of the stolen panel earlier Thursday.  

After a preliminary interview, KU Public Safety officials said the suspects who stole the fifth “Native Hosts” panel said they were intoxicated and didn’t take the panel “because of its content,” alluding that it wasn’t stolen with racist intent. Muscogee (Creek) Nation citizen and University Distinguished Professor Sarah Deer said during the protest that intoxication was not an excuse for racist behavior.  

“I think it’s time for our faculty to wake up,” Deer said. “I am still angry, and I think it’s OK to still be angry. I hope that passes, but I don’t like the excuses. How many signs are there on this campus that they could have stolen?” 

FSNA Adviser Melissa Peterson, Diné, said that going forward, she wants to see increased security beyond video cameras for artwork like “Native Hosts.” As KU’s recently appointed director of tribal relations, she’s pleased with how KU leadership has handled conversations with students so far, but works of art like this one are an important part of understanding the land that the university sits on.  

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“You can’t talk about United States history unless you’re talking about Native American history,” Peterson said. “I think with acknowledgement comes respect. It’s just about respecting each other and learning the differences that we all bring here to KU.”  

This protest was different from previous FSNA rallies, Mills said, because this time it wasn’t about peace and understanding; it was about demanding respect. As a graduate teaching assistant at KU, she said she doesn’t want to come to campus to teach and feel as though she and her peers — as well as their artwork — don’t matter there.

“I want them to prosecute whoever did this to the fullest extent,” Mills said. “We’re going to keep standing out in the rain and we’ll keep standing out here until we get the respect we deserve.”

Many in attendance wore orange to remember children who were taken from their families and sent to boarding schools and never returned. Thursday was also Canada’s first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

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KU First Nations Student Association calls for action with protest outside Spencer Museum of Art

Protesters from the University of Kansas First Nations Student Association and the KU community stuck out the thunderstorm Thursday afternoon to share thoughts, songs and support during a gathering outside of the Spencer Museum of Art, where four panels of Indigenous art installation “Native Hosts” had been vandalized and one was stolen. 

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Leaders of the University of Kansas First Nations Student Association were reeling Friday night, nearly a week after multiple pieces of the KU Common Work of Art were vandalized — not only because of the destruction of the Native exhibit, but because they feel the situation hasn’t garnered enough attention from KU administrators.

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